Manipur death toll hits 55, humanitarian crisis festers

By, , Guwahati/new Delhi
May 07, 2023 04:42 AM IST

More than 16,000 people have been taken to shelters in military compounds in and around the state, where internet services have been shut down.

The death toll after ethnic clashes in Manipur rose to at least 55 on Saturday but there was little clarity on the true scale of the damage and fatalities after the state convulsed through two days of violence, even as some parts began returning to normalcy while thousands of troops kept guard.

Security personnel in Imphal on Saturday. (ANI)
Security personnel in Imphal on Saturday. (ANI)

Also read: Manipur CM in focus after violence, arson rock state

Newly appointed security advisor Kuldiep Singh told HT on Saturday that the number of fatalities confirmed to have been due to the violence is at 28, and more deaths are being verified. Officials in Manipur on Saturday said at least 51 bodies were at three hospitals across Imphal and Churachandpur and at least four deaths also took place on Friday night.

State government officials in Imphal, who asked not to be named, said 12 bodies have been at the morgue at the Churachandpur district hospital, 26 are at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, and 13 more are at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences.

“People are reporting higher figures. We are verifying this. We are checking the circumstances of the other deaths and verifying if these are related to the violence or not. It is possible some deaths at hospital may not be related to violence,” Singh told HT over the phone.

Since Wednesday, clashes took place between Meiteis, the dominant community in Imphal Valley with over 53% of the total state population, and the tribal communities, especially Kukis, residing in the hill districts. The immediate trigger for the violence was a proposal to include Meiteis in the scheduled tribe category.

More than 16,000 people have been taken to shelters in military compounds in and around the state, where army and paramilitary forces were deployed on Thursday and all internet services, including broadband, shut down. Till Friday, 100 columns of army and Assam Rifles personnel had been deployed — a column has roughly 70 personnel.

Scores more people are also believed to have fled their homes and taken shelter in neighbouring states. The displacement of the 16,000 people, a figure unnamed officials quoted to ANI, has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis.

“We are helping residents with food and their security. Not only the CRPF but other paramilitary forces too are housing the residents at their camps,” said a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officer, asking not to be named.

Singh said that during the day, police and paramilitary forces recovered nearly 87 weapons surrendered by those who had stolen it from police stations during rioting.

“Different police units of Manipur are taking stock of the weapons stolen by the protesters. We urge people to surrender the weapons. Police have been directed to take strict action against the protesters, including those who do not surrender the weapons. Until evening, we arrested 10 people,” he added.

The officer also said that on Friday, there was one incident of violence in an area at the border of Kampoki district and Imphal East involving a mob but there were no casualties.

Officials in Manipur police, who asked not to be named, said the protesters have stolen “hundreds of weapons” from police.

Residents in Churachandpur, who spoke with HT, said four people, all Kukis, were killed on Friday night during an attempt by army personnel to evacuate a group of Meiteis to a safer location. “A group of residents comprising mostly women reached the scene and started questioning why Meiteis are being taken to safer locations while many Kukis are trapped in Imphal. Things escalated after that,” said a Kuki-politician based in Churachandpur, who asked not to be named.

Singh said there were skirmishes in the same area and said three people were confirmed to have died. “We received information about a skirmish with an Army column and Assam Rifles when they were controlling the situation there yesterday (Friday). The Army column had to open fire. We found three bodies this morning.”

“The paramilitary forces are still present in 23 police station areas but the number of sensitive locations is decreasing. Flag marches are being conducted at those sensitive spots and police are involved in confidence building measures,” he added.

An order issued by the state government late on Saturday evening said that the curfew in Churachandpur will be partially relaxed between 7am and 10am on Sunday.

Army officials refused to comment on the incident and maintained a report will be issued by the Union home ministry on the developments in Manipur.

Separately, news agency PTI reported that “five hill-based militants were killed and two India Reserve Battalion jawans were injured in two separate encounters in Churachandpur district on Friday night”.

On Saturday, there were no reports of any major violence from across the state, but the situation continued to remain tense. Residents in Churachandpur and Imphal said some essentials were available during early hours of the day, but it was difficult to get fuel and cash. Some residents also complained of a shortage of drinking water.

“There is no incident of arson or clashes since Thursday night in Churachandpur. But due to what happened in the past three days and with rumours spreading thick and fast almost everyone is edgy and there’s a sense of panic. Most of us are still holed inside our houses and venturing out only when required,” said a civil society leader from Churachandpur on condition of anonymity.

In Imphal, chief minister N Biren Singh held a series of meetings, including an all-party meeting and groups like All Manipur Christian Association and Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity. “During the all party meeting, it was resolved to appeal for peace in the state, and encourage all citizens to avoid any actions that could lead to further violence or instability. It was further resolved to form a peace committee in each constituency to ensure that peace initiatives are implemented at the grassroots level,” Singh tweeted.

People in the defence establishment said activities by cadres of Imphal Valley-based insurgent groups staying in camps in Myanmar “may be detrimental to ongoing efforts to restore normalcy in Manipur” and aerial surveillance as well as vigil along the Indo-Myanmar border was enhanced to prevent it.

“The issue is being addressed proactively by security forces who are leaving no stone unturned to thwart the nefarious designs, should it manifest,” people in the defence ministry said, asking not to be named.

“Multiple rounds of aerial surveillance using Cheetah helicopters have already been conducted by army since Saturday morning in Manipur. Army and Assam Rifles are working in synergy to quell the present unrest in the state at the earliest,” an army official said, asking not to be named.

Also read: Over 1500 people move to Assam from violence-hit Manipur

Meanwhile, the number of people that have escaped Manipur and fled to the border areas of Assam including Cachar grew to at least 1,500 on Saturday. Eight camps have been set up by the Assam government, and a peace committee has been set up.

MLA from Jiribam Md Achab Uddin on Saturday visited the areas of Assam where Manipur residents have moved. “People were afraid that violence from Churachandpur and surrounding areas may spread there. Our chief minister is in constant touch with us and we are trying to control the situation together. Rumours are creating problems but I can assure my people that they will be able to return home in next two days,” he said.

(With inputs Biswa Kalyan Purkayastha)

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    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.


    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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